Alabama recently passed a law to restore voting rights to most of its citizens with felony records. A federal judge, however, ruled that this new law does not require the state to notify them.
Tens of thousands of Alabama ex-felons were prohibited from voting before Gov. Kay Ivey signed House Bill 282 into effect in May. They may never know that the right to vote has been reinstated unless they inquire about the change, reports ThinkPress.com.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said he will not dedicate any resources toward educating people about the shift in policy. He compared voting to a privilege, like receiving free ice cream.
Prior to HB 282’s passing, a felon’s right to vote was at the discretion of Alabama’s county registrars and supposedly based on the nature of a person’s crimnal conviction. Historically, however, this became a device to primarily disenfranchise Black ex-felons in Alabama, ThinkProgress reported.
HB 282 now obligates registrars to abide by a limited list of felonies which will still disqualify certain convicted criminals from regaining the right to vote.
On behalf of 10 former felons, the Campaign Legal Center filed a federal request asking the state to educate and inform those affected by the new law.
U.S. District Judge W. Keith Watkins denied that request, finding only that Alabama must notify all its county registrars of the change in law. He said it is ex-felons’ responsibility to review the law for themselves and discern if they can now regain their right to vote.
In many cases, former felons in Alabama had previously had attempted to register and been denied by their county registrars. According to Judge Watkins’ ruling, the state has no duty to inform even these people of the reversal in their voting eligibility.
“There is no evidence that any HB 282 voter has been denied the right to register to vote,” Watkins wrote in his decision.
HB 282 is “a step in the right direction,” not a clear solution to Alabama’s problematic felon disenfranchisement policies, said Danielle Lang, deputy director of voting rights for the Campaign Legal Center.
The law imposes what still amounts to a poll tax because ex-felons must pay fines and fees to restore their right to vote, Lang explained.
“Wealth should not be a factor in deciding who can vote,” Lang said.
ThinkProgress reported 6.1 million Americans nationwide are no longer permitted to vote due to a prior felony conviction.
One in 13 Black Americans has lost his or her right to vote, while just one in 56 non-Black voters are disenfranchised, according to The Sentencing Project.